Addictions: How to Properly Dispose of Unused Medicines

By on August 7, 2019


Medications which are expired or are no longer needed have become a public safety issue. Though there are several ways to dispose of unused medications, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has detailed safe approaches. Unused or expired prescription medications are a public safety issue, leading to potential accidental poisoning, misuse, and overdose.

Proper disposal of unused drugs saves lives and protects the environment.

Drug Disposal Guidelines

If no disposal instructions are given on the prescription drug labeling and no prescription drug take-back program is available in your area, then follow these simple steps to throw the drugs in the household trash:

  1. Remove the medicine from its original container and mix it with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty bag, or other container to prevent medicine from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.

Visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) website ( or call (800) 882-9539 for more information and to find an authorized collection in your community. The site also provides valuable information about DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative.”

Note:  On the Outer Banks, all of the police departments except for Manteo will receive unused medications as will the Sheriff’s office, and the Outer Banks Hospital has regular events in which they will take back unused medications. Walgreens accepts them, too, and two CVS pharmacies will add boxes this year.

Additional Tips

Scratch out all identifying information on the prescription drug to make it unreadable. This will help to protect your identity and the privacy of your personal health information. You must not share your prescription drugs – they were prescribed to you.

Can I flush medicine down the sink or toilet?

If the above-mentioned disposal options are not readily available, one option is to flush the medicines down the sink or toilet as soon as they are no longer needed. Some communities may prohibit this practice out of concern over the trace levels of drug residues found in rivers, lakes, and community drinking water supplies.

Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanied the medicine specifically instructs you to do so. Please also ensure you are compliant with your community’s laws and regulations prior to takingsuch action.


For more information on preventing prescription drug misuse, go to the following websites:

For more information on the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, go to the following websites:

Environmental Protection Agency

Food and Drug Administration

Sources:  Environmental Protection Agency, How to Dispose of Medicines

Properly, 2011: Food and Drug Administration, Disposal of Unused

Medicines: What You Should Know, 2017.

Jo Ann Hummers, EdD, is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She has a private practice at the Nags Head Professional Center. Her work includes DWI assessments and treatment, smoking cessation sessions, and treatment for gambling and other addictions.

Recent posts in this category

Recent posts in this category

Comments are closed.